BALTIMORE — Austin Romine went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double and an RBI on Friday night in the Yankees’ 4-1 win over the Orioles to raise his batting average to .375 and his OPS to 1.078.
He has a career-high 10-game hitting streak. During those 10 games — which were played over 33 days — he went 14-for-29 (.483) with four doubles, three home runs and 10 RBIs.
Still, when Romine reported to work Saturday, he was not in the lineup. Gary Sanchez was in his usual role as the Yankees’ No. 1 catcher. Sanchez went 0-for-5 to drop his average to .205 and his OPS to .777.
On Sunday, if the Yankees had not been rained out against the Orioles, Romine would have been on the bench again. Such is the life of a backup catcher — even one who is in the best offensive stretch of his career, by far.
“I know my role,” Romine said. “Yes, the competitor in me wants to play every day, but we have an All-Star catcher. I’m here for when they need me. If they need me to go in, if they need me to catch that day to give him a break, I know my role on this team. It’s a really good team and I’m fortunate enough to be a part of it.”
Romine is 29. Sanchez is 25 and is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball. So for Romine to be a No. 1 catcher, he probably would have to play for another team. He said it’s not something he thinks about.
“You can let that creep in, but if you’re thinking about that, you’re not thinking about that day,” Romine said. “This sport is very hard. You have to be focused on the day at hand and the work you’re doing that day because if you’re not, then that’s never going to be realized.”
Manager Aaron Boone thinks Romine can be more than a light-hitting No. 2. He entered this season with a career slash line of .220/.263/.314, but in spring training, Boone and bench coach Josh Bard, a former catcher, crouched down with Romine and told him they wanted more from him offensively.
“They said, ‘We think you can do more,’ ” Romine said. “It came in a positive way. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, you haven’t been doing something. We believe in you and to be honest, we think you can do more.’ It was nice to have that kind of positivity.”
Said Boone, “I just felt like the talent is there. Simple as that. And I know the value of having a quality backup catcher. Not only what it means because we have another good player that’s impacting our club on the days he’s in there, but the better he’s playing, the more days he actually can be in there.
“That’s more days that we can pick our spots with Gary to give a day or to give him a DH day. I feel like all those things can add up to a more productive player in Gary’s case through the entire season in keeping him strong, in keeping him fresh, because catcher is obviously a demanding position and because Gary’s so important to our team offensively as well.”
Romine said his offensive improvement is based on shortening his swing — something he picked up from teammate Ronald Torreyes, who is at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre despite batting .339 in a limited role for the Yankees this season.
“He has the shortest swing and simplest swing and the kid hits over .300 every time he plays,” Romine said. “I started talking to Torreyes and I watched his short swing and I watched some of the guys in similar roles throughout the league who had good numbers and their swings were short, direct. It’s easier to be consistent.”
Romine has been more than consistent. Obviously, he’s not going to hit .375 all season, but Boone said he doesn’t know if Romine is done making his case that he can be more than a backup — for somebody.
“I felt like there was a lot more in there,” Boone said. “I feel like even what I’ve seen over the last couple weeks, frankly, as his swing continues to get better, as it has continued to evolve, I think he’s continued to really buy into some things mechanically that have helped him. I think it’s real what he’s doing.”